How to entrepreneurs usually handle their days? What should they do differently to maximize their productivity? After working for major companies, Paige Arnof-Fenn has started her own marketing firm Mavens & Moguls almost 20 years ago. By working on her own, an a large team of contractors, Paige has went through all ups and downs of entrepreneurship - here's what she's learned.
Workpuls: Hi everyone. Bojana here for Workpulse and welcome to another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks! Today with me I have Paige Arnof-Fenn from Mavens & Moguls. She's the founder and the CEO of this agency and thank you very much for joining us today.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Thanks so much for having me Bojana. It's great to be here.
Workpuls: So first of all, let's start off with the basics. Tell us a little bit about what it is that you do. What does your company do?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, Mavens & Moguls is a marketing consulting firm. And my background is in marketing. I spent the early part of my career working at big companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola doing marketing. Then I was the head of marketing at three.com startup companies and all the companies are survivors. So that's exciting. They all did well. And then about 19 years ago I started my own company to do marketing consulting and we work with companies at all stages from early stage startup to middle market, emerging market firms to fortune 500 to help them with their marketing strategies.
Workpuls: Okay, great. And how big is your team? Do you have a big team or...?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, I have no employees, all independent contractors and about four dozen people. So, we all work virtually independently.
Workpuls: Okay, cool. Let's get onto the productivity part. How would you define productivity yourself?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, for me, productivity is at the end of the day feeling like you invested your time well, that you got the work done in a way that when you look back you say, wow, that was a really good use of my time. I achieved my goal; I did what I set out to do and kind of hit my targets. So, if you can say that you've been productive.
Workpuls: Okay. And when it comes to measuring productivity, I'm guessing since you're like looking at based on laws that it can be measured in that way or there's another way of measuring it?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, I mean, I think there are kind of very hard goals, you know, hard measures and soft measures. Sure. When you set out your monthly, quarterly annual goals, you either meet those goals or you don't meet those goals. That's a hard and fast measurement but I think also it's how you feel about it. You know, goals change, goals morph, you know, with the Coronavirus, the whole world has changed. So, a lot of those metrics had to change too. And it's how do you feel about the progress that you're making and when you have to course correct along the way, you know, are you achieving your milestones and moving the needle in a positive direction? And if you feel like at the end of that journey, whether it's a week, a month, an annual cycle that you made progress, then I think that's being productive. You just have to, well, part of being an entrepreneur I think is you have to be able to roll with the punches. And there are a lot of punches, Corona's a big punch but they're always little punches along the way. So, you know, I think it's about being able to be agile and course correct and continue to create milestones and hit those milestones to get you to an end point successfully.
Workpuls: So hard and soft goals and measurements. But, tell me, it's a bit different... Most of the people that we talk to have companies either office or remote companies, they aren't generally working with contractors as much as you... Do you have any part in helping your contractors become more productive and how do you do it?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, you know, I'm, with the four-dozen people on the team, I'm talking to each of the groups, the teams that are working with each client on a regular basis. So, you can almost think about me as being like the bee that cross pollinates all the different flowers. So, if I'm learning something on one team that's doing something in a very innovative way or strategic way that might help another team, I will make sure that the lessons and whatever they're learning on project "A" can help project "B". So, I think, you know, having started my career at companies like Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola, you have a lot of formal systems in place. There are a lot of tools, measurements, metrics that, you know, every month, every quarter you have to really fit into those boxes. I think when you work independently it's a little less structured and you know, you do a little bit more by the seat of the pants I guess as an entrepreneur. In a corporate environment, there are hard and fast rules that you have to abide by. When it's your company…. You know, some clients are more formal, some clients are less structured. And so, we're working with our clients to make sure that the metrics we set up and the goals that we set up for our team and the deliverables on each project are consistent with their structure, their culture, and how they like to work. Because some clients really want a hard line on the sand and other clients, I think can be more flexible.
Workpuls: And when it comes to the work environment, is there any difference in getting your productivity up in a more flexible, sort of contracting environment like your own or when you are an actual employee, where we have a bit of a more structured system then you do. Of course you do have some kind of a system but it's not as tight as it was in the places where you worked previously.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Right. When you're an employee in a company, you have an annual review, a performance review, it's usually tied to your salary or your bonus. So, I know at P&G and at Coke I had very formal plans with my boss and I had milestones I had to hit to be able to get the maximum bonus that I was eligible for. When you're a consultant it's a little bit different. And especially for my clients, I would say the majority of my clients are mid-market to emerging market, kind of 2 million to 200 million in revenue. For some of our clients, uh, they're, they are venture-backed startups. So when you have a venture capitalist who sits on your board, who's put money into your company, they may have very hard milestones for fundraising goals that they want to tie your performance as a consultant to the goals that the board has set up for that venture-backed startup.
So, in those cases, we have very hard performance goals that we may have to hit. For other clients, some of the internet companies, they may be trying to get their traffic numbers up or they may have a new product launch and they need to get a certain number of signups or certain number of sales. So, they may try and tie our performance, our compensation to milestones that they have to hit to reach their goals. We have startups that have offered us equity and stock in the company. So that's a longer-term horizon because as they grow, you're going to grow with them. You have a vested interest in their success. So, we have clients that we work with on a project basis. We have clients that we work with on a retainer basis.
Retainers are like, every month I send an invoice and they send me the money and they buy a certain amount of our time. For a project there's a beginning, middle and end. And so when we're structuring the project we know this is how much time they need us to do phase one, here's what we need to do for phase two and then to complete the project, here's what we have to deliver so that we can make our final payment and that's how we get paid. So, I think we can be more flexible because we're independent and we’re not part of their formal employment structure. So, we will structure our incentives and our payments. However, it makes the most sense for the client, if that answers your question.
Workpuls: Makes sense. Would you say that the contractors or full-time employees seem to be more productive given the contractors have a bit more flexibility but on the other hand, they probably have other projects and other people they're working with. You're probably not the only one. So, they have a bit more to juggle around.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So, it depends. You know, sometimes I think... I've been an employee for many years in my career and I've been a contractor. I think for employees it's sometimes easy to be complacent or for inertia to kick in because you know your paycheck is going to arrive every two weeks no matter what and you're going to get paid. So, I think for employees, you know what you know, you do what you do and you're going to get paid no matter what.
For a contractor, when a company decides to bring in a consultant, they usually do that because they need extra help in an area that the employees don't know how to do. So, they need to bring in outside expertise. When they bring you in on a contract, you have to deliver. So, you can't hide. An employee can kind of lay low and you know, kind of look busy and pretend like they're working sometimes and maybe not be working. When you're a contractor you really have to deliver something to get paid. So, I think and especially now when the economy is very tricky, for a lot of companies who can't afford to have full time employees on the payroll, bringing in a contractor might make more sense financially and strategically because you're paying for something where you know exactly what you're paying for. So, there's a direct return on the investment. They pay X, they get Y back. And so for a lot of companies, when the economy is in a tough time, sometimes I think hiring contractors makes more sense because a lot of companies are being forced, unfortunately, to lay off their full time employees because they can't afford to keep them busy enough when things slow down. So, it might seem counterintuitive, but I think for a lot of consulting businesses, you can get busier in difficult times. Whereas employees, you know, the company knows if they have to cut their employees, they can take unemployment and get money another way. If you're a consultant, it's a lot harder to get paid if you're not working.
Workpuls: Yeah, that's true. That's true. In the initial email you shared a thing that helps you with your productivity, which is actually quite simple and I'd like to hear more about it.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Sure. So, when you're an entrepreneur, I think, and small business people probably can really relate to this. Your time is... days can fly by. You get so busy and it's really hard to feel productive sometimes because everybody needs you, your clients need you, your staff needs you. And so, they're kind of three rules that I have stuck to, to try and help myself feel more productive and be more productive. And I've had very good mentors in my life and one of my early mentors told me that when you're 20 years old and you start your career you think that having blank space on your calendar or taking a break is a luxury, when you get to be in your fifties and you've been running a company for almost 20 years. My company now is 19 years old. It's not a luxury anymore. It's maintenance. You have to be able to take some downtime or else you're going to go crazy.
So, my mentor said, you need to treat yourself the way you would treat your very best customers and your very best clients because you're the machine, you're the engine that keeps the company going. So, if you don't feel good, if you're not at your peak performance, you're never going to do your best work. So how do you do that? I think you have to exercise every day. I think you need to do something physical because I think that the physical and mental is tied together very closely. So, I really try every day to do something. Even taking a walk, whether you like to do yoga or pilates or tai chi or run, whatever it is you do. Spend at least 20 to 30 minutes every day doing something physical so that your mind-body connection is strong. I also think it's important to be grateful to show gratitude because I think when you appreciate things, very simple things in your life, I think it does help you be more productive because you don't take things for granted.
And I think one of the most important things you can do, and again, it might sound counterintuitive, but get very comfortable learning to say no.
Give yourself permission to say, you know what? I'm not going to answer the phone right now. I'm not going to answer the emails. I'm going to turn it off and I'm going to stay focused on getting this proposal written or I'm going to stay focused on my exercise or I really need to take a walk. So, there are going to be mornings where you wake up and you say, you know, I feel like I need a little more sleep. Just hit the snooze button, let yourself sleep, get a little more rest. Then get up, be refreshed and energized and then throw yourself into the work.
Turn your phone off and say, you know what? It's not convenient for me to answer right now. Turn the computer off sometimes. It's not being selfish, I think. I think it's being smart and strategic because you know when your best hours are, when you're most productive for work. And if you let yourself get distracted by phone calls and emails and things that kind of make your energy dissipate? You're not going to get the most out of the day. So that was what I was trying to communicate in the first email exchange is that, you know, I really do think there are things that are within your control that you know, whether you take time to exercise, take time to just appreciate and be grateful and get very comfortable saying no.
And if you read anything about Steve jobs, who obviously was an incredibly successful businessman and entrepreneur, Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world. He was very famous for saying, the most successful people, the best business people he ever encountered were not the ones that said yes to everything. They're the ones that said no to most things. And when they did say yes, they put themselves in a hundred percent in the yes, but they said no to almost everything else. So, I think it's important to stay focused.
Workpuls: Yeah, I would feel that a lot of entrepreneurs can actually relate to this because most of them are working crazy hours, trying to get everything done every day working since they open their eyes until they go back to bed. The work consumes their whole day, and it's okay in some cases it definitely needs to be done if there's a new product to be launched or whatever, it's going to take more energy out of everybody. But doing that from day to day, it's like the machine is going to break down at some point definitely.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: And you can't live at that level constantly. You have to be able to modulate so that when you're in fifth gear you can really be in fifth gear but sometimes you need to be a neutral or you have to downshift and you know, I just think you have to be realistic.
Workpuls: And have you tried any of the, let's say, either traditional or nontraditional time management techniques and methods? Starting with the most common ones, like time blocking or Pomodoro and so on. Have you tried any of these? Are you implementing any of these in your work or not?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: So not formally. I've always been a morning person ever since I was a child. I always get up early. Naturally, I don't use an alarm clock. I get up when my body tells me to wake up and I, especially now with the light shifting, I get up when the sun gets up. So, I know I'm very fresh in the morning and I have a lot of energy and that's when I'm most creative in the morning. So, I do time block in how I structure my day and at the morning time for me, I am very focused in terms of if I have to write things and do proposals and presentations, write articles, write speeches, the morning block is the most productive time. So I know that if I get caught into a whole of, you know, getting caught into emails or you know, getting tied up and stuff on my computer, if I waste an hour or two of that precious morning time that can throw off my entire day.
So, I try to keep my creative time in the morning, very productive for me. I can get a lot of things, knocked off my to do list. I'm a big list maker, so I like getting things that I can cross off every day. I also know for me that I need to eat, to fuel my life. You know, a lot of people can get up and just go, they get a cup of coffee, they don't need to eat. If I don't eat in the morning, again, that'll throw off my entire day. I am starving in the morning, so I really eat. I also like to have a snack or, not now when you're social distancing, but in a previous era I would do lunch meetings. I loved having lunch meetings because A) it forces me to pause and eat and it's a great time to get to know people. I think you get to connect with people on a personal level. You get to talk to them. And I just know for myself, technology is great but you can't rely on it a hundred percent. What builds my business or relationships and people. So, I really try and use a lot of the mealtime as networking time and that's, again it's multitasking cause it's productive because I get to fuel my brain but I also get to kind of fuel my heart and my soul because I really love connecting with people. And even now with everybody working remotely.
I do a lot of coffee meetings online. You know, on Zoom you can meet with people and for coffee, for cocktails, for a beer. So, I really do think, for my business and maybe for other people who are more extroverted and gregarious, really leverage technology to help you build your business because I really think that's a way to stand out and differentiate yourself.
The afternoons for me are a little bit of a lull. So that's… As you can see, I’m kind of chatty and I like talking, so I'll do a lot of conference calls in the afternoon because I don't need to be as focused like when you're structuring a presentation or a proposal but I can talk even if I'm a little sleepy, need a cup of coffee. I can talk on the phone or talk on a call easily in the afternoon. And then before I shut down my computer at night, I really try and kind of structure what I got done, what still needs to get done and make a list for the next day, so that when I show up at my desk the next morning, I have a fresh to do list and I can hit the ground running. Because if I end each day really kind of taking notice of what worked well, what slipped through the cracks, then you don't get too far behind.
So, for me, I like the structure of... it's a little old-fashioned, but I like making lists. I like crossing things off the list. I liked front-loading my day to the more creative activities backloading my day to the more interpersonal activities and then ending my day by kind of noting how I did and being very disciplined about setting myself up for success the next day so that I really don't get too far behind.
Workpuls: Sounds like a good strategy.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: It works for me.
Workpuls: It's a good system. Works for you, yeah.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Right? I think that's the key. Everybody needs to find a system that works for them and this system works for me, but you have to figure out what works. Some people I know use software and I know people who are like lawyers or accountants that have to manage, if they're spending time on a client they need in six minutes or 15 minute increments, they need to be able to build their client for a discrete amount of time. That's not the way I charge my business. I don't want people to look at me like a lawyer where every time I pick up the phone or every time I respond to an email, I'm going to charge them a hundred dollars or something. That's not the way that I like to run my business. But I understand that there are other professional service firms that have to work in different ways, but that's just not the way it's going to work for me.
Workpuls: Well, what I think is when it comes to productivity, daytime, nighttime, a lot of people I think still haven't figured it out completely what's their most productive time of the day or they haven't really thought about it. So, they don't try to structure their work day around that time. And it's something that we're really, that we're actually also trying to teach our clients how to use our software to see what are the most productive times for their employees and structure the workload around that because it's going to get much better results. Everybody's going to get much better results in such a way. And it's just that even something that we, let's say like consciously think about I guess to say, oh yeah, I'm usually more productive after lunch or before lunch or whatever the time it is...
Paige Arnof-Fenn: No, but I think it's a really important point and some people like to work out in the morning, some people like a break in the afternoon, some people like to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, some people just to have snacks at their desk and they can just keep working all the way through. So, I think you have to really take inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses and be very honest with yourself about the ideal parameters and the ideal work environment. And again, leverage technology to help you do that better. If you've got the right tools and technologies and you know the software systems can say from three to five in the afternoon, that is a dead period for me. And so for those people to go take a walk, get some exercise or whatever, and it's just built into their calendar that you're going to get a lot more work out of those people, they're going to feel a higher sense of accomplishment and fulfillment if they end their day and they think, “Wow, look at how much I got done today” versus going home at the end of the day and feeling like “Oh, what a waste. I didn't get anything done. How frustrating.” But if you've got the tools and the software to help you structure that, you're so far ahead of the game.
Workpuls: Well, on my end, that would be all when it comes to my questions. I don't know if you have anything else to add. Do you have any other tips maybe for entrepreneurs?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Well, I mean, again, I think one thing that we've learned, I guess in this crisis is that technology doesn't have to be isolating. It can really help you do a better job of managing your life. It can help you keep your connections, your real-world connections better by leveraging technology, whether it's social media or Zoom, Skype, the tools that you use every day to run your business. I think before the crisis, people maybe hid behind the computer, you got on social media and again, it can become like a rabbit hole where you get in and you can't get out. But now I feel like people are doing a better job, because we're so isolated, of picking up the phone or taking the time to set up a Zoom call, or planning a cocktail hour to catch up with an old friend or a colleague. So, I just encourage entrepreneurs and business owners and especially small businesses. Like I said, it's really, it can be very hard because so much of it is on you.
And I think if you decide what your priorities are, what's important to you and set your own goals, your productivity goals, your financial goals, you know, it's more than just revenue. I think a lot of people say, “oh you know, what are the financial metrics or the quantitative metrics”. I think you have to set up qualitative metrics too and I think you have to build things like exercise into your day, and human contact, and relationships, and leverage the technology and the tools to help you get the most out of every experience. And I think when you do that, you'll have a higher sense of fulfillment and you'll feel more gratified that you're getting more done and you just feel better about the whole process. And I think, this period in particular, I think you're really seeing a break in terms of people that are kind of getting overwhelmed with it and people that are saying, “you know, this slower pace forcing me to slow down. I am getting more sleep. I am eating better. I am getting more exercise.”
Some people are really, I think taking full advantage of this kind of pause that the world has given us, and I think they're going to come out of it in a much better place then. Maybe they'll keep elements of this as part of the new normal moving forward. So, I would just encourage people, you know, productivity might sound squishy and soft, but it really matters. And I think if people take the time to be more strategic and thoughtful about it, they're going to feel better about the work they're doing and the impact that they're having because they're using their own personal strengths in a way that they're getting the most bang for the buck.
Workpuls: Great. Great. I love that. I'd like to thank you in the end for taking the time today to speak to us and to speak to our viewers about your views on productivity and how you do it actually. And hopefully they'll find these tips useful. And thank you everyone for watching another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Thanks for Bojana. It was a lot of fun. Great to be here.